NASHVILLE – Shea Weber is locked up for 14 years. That much we do know. As the Predators’ attention turns from a hectic offseason to the upcoming season, how do they look compared to last year’s team?
"I’ve been around the team a long time and I can tell you I’m as excited about this team as any team we’ve had," head coach Barry Trotz said on a conference call Wednesday.
Despite the losses of Ryan Suter and Alexander Radulov, Trotz has reasons to be excited.
Before acquiring Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad at last season’s trade deadline, the Predators were the NHL’s youngest team. At that time, they were competing for the Central Division crown. Many of the youngsters now have valuable experience under their belts and will only be getting better in the coming years.
One youngster that will be facing much pressure going into the 2012-13 season is 22-year-old defenceman Roman Josi.
"If we were to start today," Trotz said, "I would probably say Roman Josi would probably move up to that spot next to Shea."
Like any rookie defenceman, Josi had his ups and downs a year ago. However, there were many times where he looked like a 10-year veteran.
The Predators have always been high on Josi, a second-round pick in 2008, but injuries always seemed to get in the way of his arrival to the NHL. Once he got called up to Nashville, Josi didn’t look out of place en route to tallying 16 points and averaging more than 18 minutes of ice time in 52 regular season games.
"I think he does a lot of things that Ryan Suter did at the same age," Trotz said of Josi. "The complement of Roman’s ability to move the puck and Shea’s veteran presence, physicality, big shot, crunches a lot of minutes against top guys … That would be a pretty strong twosome."
Aside from Josi, who in time could be a top-pair defenceman by NHL standards, there are many other Predators below the age of 23 with a bright future.
Colin Wilson, 22, is on the verge of a breakout season. Craig Smith, 22, was one of the NHL’s top rookies in last season’s first half. Gabriel Bourque, 21, shined in big moments last season. Ryan Ellis, 21, has a high offensive ceiling from the back end. Baby-faced defencemen Jonathon Blum and Mattias Ekholm are also coming through the pipeline.
The Predators also have to like how they shape up against their own division going into the new season. Neither St. Louis nor Chicago have yet to make any notable off-season additions, while Detroit saw Nicklas Lidstrom retire and lost out on their biggest targets.
Sure, the Predators watched Suter and Radulov walk away, but they have a deep core of youth and have bounced back after previous off-season departures like Paul Kariya, Tomas Vokoun, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Arnott.
In short, the rest of the Central didn’t gain or pull away from the Predators as GM David Poile was trying to figure who was staying and going.
And as Trotz stressed, "We’re not done adding pieces. If we can add another piece, especially in the top four [of the] defence, we’re going to try to do that. There is limited value out there in terms of free agency, but there are guys that we’re looking at as a possibility of a trade."
Some free agent defencemen that could interest the Predators are Carlo Colaiacovo, Michal Rozsival or Pavel Kubina. If they don’t dip into free agency a trade is certainly possible, as Trotz alluded to.
That said, the Predators have their sights on a bigger free agent – and it’s not a defenceman. Free agent forward Shane Doan has shown signs that he could be leaving Phoenix in the near future, and the Predators absolutely are interested.
"I know in our conversations he’s going to wait until the 11th hour to try and stay in Phoenix … That’s his first option," said Predators GM David Poile. "After that I think we’re in as good a position as anybody to get Shane Doan if he’s not going to stay in Phoenix."
Trotz spoke candidly on the possibility of adding Doan.
"[He’s] a type of player you would love to have on your hockey club," said Trotz. "If he becomes available because of the Phoenix situation, I’m sure we will be very high on his list."
No matter whether the Predators are able to sign Doan or pick up some help on defence, they will be right there in the playoff hunt once again. Weber and Pekka Rinne are a great 1-2 punch on the back end, the youthful core is growing and Poile was able to hold on to Gill and Gaustad amidst some other personnel losses.
The Predators feel good about their chances of contending in 2012-13 and beyond – as well they should.
"This is an exciting time," Weber said Wednesday. "We are a young team but we are very talented and we’re not far away at all [from a Stanley Cup]."